Financial Planning for the HIV Positive
BY Daniel Reynolds
January 16 2014 4:27 PM ET UPDATED: March 07 2014 8:38 PM ET
Last fall, New York Life Insurance Company, one of the world’s largest life insurers, launched a program to assist HIV-positive individuals in planning for their financial future and retirement.
Dubbed “Positive Planning,” this first-of-its-kind program is helmed by Aaron Baldwin, an HIV-positive agent based in New York Life’s San Francisco office, as well as managing partner Kevin Choi and Los-Angeles-based senior director Anthony Conde.
For Baldwin, 46, launching this new project seemed like a natural extension of the Fortune 100 company’s mission, which is, according to its website, “to provide financial security and peace of mind.” Yet considering that for decades HIV-positive people were refused insurance products, the move from a corporate America stalwart is a remarkable one.
“In conversation with people living in the [positive] community, it became obvious that there was a need for this type of planning, because they deal with unique situations,” says Baldwin, pointing to issues such as ineligibility for health insurance and high medical expenses as long-standing obstacles to long-term care for HIV-positive individuals. “They could wind up potentially losing their estate in the process of attempting to manage their long-term care expenses.”
Baldwin began training 11,000 New York Life agents last fall, providing education about the unique situations faced by HIV-positive clients. The company used online seminars known as “webinars,” involving agents across the United States, in addition to the company’s other employees and managers. By educating agents, Baldwin hopes to be able to pass on knowledge and protections to HIV-positive clients and the larger community.
The CDC predicts that more than 50 percent of the HIV-positive population will be over age 50 by 2015. Throughout the past two decades, medical developments have given the gift of longevity to people with HIV, but many are financially and mentally unprepared for the rising costs of aging.
“For many years, the community has spent money as if none of us would make it to retirement,” Baldwin says. “And obviously now we’re seeing that the mortality rate, if you adhere to the drug regimen, is pretty much normal. ‘No plans for planning’ no longer works. How are we, as a community, going to absorb all of these people who begin to retire and are basically not prepared for retirement?”
While insurance agents have historically struggled with providing services to HIV-positive clients, the reality of longer HIV-positive lives has created an evolving playing field, where new services and opportunities are continually becoming available. If, as Baldwin hopes, health care providers begin to acknowledge HIV as a manageable chronic illness like diabetes rather than a terminal condition, these opportunities may multiply 10-fold.
“At one time, diabetes was an uninsurable condition to have, but we know that, with years and years of understanding the condition, it’s easier to provide protection,” says Baldwin. He says that life insurance offered by AARP to LGBT seniors is one example of new benefits New York Life provides.
“As a company, we want to make sure that we stay on the forefront of what our clients are needing. And since we work in the [LGBT and HIV-impacted] community as much as we have been, we see this as an opportunity to educate people as to what might be available.”
As an HIV and AIDS activist for 20 years, Baldwin, who has been HIV-positive for 12 years, has been on the front lines of the fights for both survival and systemic change. He sees the next natural step in this battle as supporting financial health, which will not only pay for cost of living and medical expenses in the long term as well as retirement, but also provide an individual with legacy after death. Conde, the LGBT marketing director for New York Life and a collaborator with Baldwin on the “Positive Planning” program, also cites legacy and community as key components of the initiative.
“When I lost my family to coming out as a gay man, I didn’t lose a family per se, because I gained the LGBT family,” he says. “We’re trying to leave that same legacy to our LGBT family. I know so many individuals who are suffering with HIV, but know that they want to leave their legacy to help other people who are suffering with the disease—people they don’t even know. Planning has always been about finding the right financial tools and processes to do two things: protect your assets and leave a legacy. ”
Conde and Baldwin are working with the U.S. government and various nonprofits to ensure that the “Positive Planning” program can provide the greatest amount of protection to the highest numbers of HIV-positive people. In that effort, New York Life reached out to LGBT activists and HIV and AIDS organizations, including California state senator Mark Leno’s staff, activist Cleve Jones, Neil Giuliano of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, and regional LGBT and HIV groups.
Understanding the resources available in the local community is essential to New York Life’s outreach program, says Conde, and information about such resources is part of the training received by agents. But ultimately, the path to long-term financial health begins with the individual.
“Individually, it all starts with having that financial conversation with yourself,” Conde says. “If you’re in a relationship, you’ll want to have it with your partner. If you need help, seek out a more knowledgeable person, be it a financial [representative] or an attorney, or a service that’s local.”
And how will he know if “Positive Planning” is a success?
“Success comes with a greater knowledge of the fact that we, as a community, are changing,” Baldwin says. “This big dark cloud that has been over the community the past 30-plus years is starting to move again. What used to be considered a terminal condition is now a chronic condition, a condition that one can live with, a condition that one has to prepare for.… This is a condition that you may live with all your life, but your life may be as long, as fruitful, and as wonderful as anybody else’s. But you have to plan for that.”